01 July 2007

Last TSU News

Due to restructure in the way services are to be delivered in the University of Canberra, the Technical Services Unit will be disbanded. A single service arrangement for the delivery of services to support, among other services, computing and media will be implemented before the end of 2007.

I have taken the opportunity to accept a voluntary separation package, and have now left the University to pursue other opportunities. I hope to have the chance to progress some of the issues that have arisen lately in our work at UC at a university sector or education industry level rather than at an institutional level.

This blog will remain as a record of the various activities I have been involved with over my time as Manager, IT & Media Services and head of the Technical Services Unit.

12 June 2007

Media Production Spaces refurbishment completed

Over the next two weeks our contractor expects to finalise a few outstanding issues in his control that remain in the Media Production areas in Building 9.

Still to be addressed are some issues outside the responsibility of the contractor that remain with the GlobeCaster video switching and effects system. These issues are the responsibility of the supplier, TechMedia. Arrangements will be made to bring TechMedia representatives down from Sydney to spend some time tuning the system when staff return from leave over the mid-year break.

"Single Service" ICT and the Division of Communication and Education

Our new Vice Chancellor has announced that by the end of 2007 there will be a "single service" administrative structure for, among other things, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) across the University.

The Division of Communication and Education has a Technical Services Unit (TSU) that has looked after the requirements of the Division across its media and information technology needs. The TSU was created when the Division came about, bringing together the various technical officers and other general staff from the Schools and Faculties that came together to form the Division.

With the creation of a "single service" for ICT, the future support for a number of the Division's resources that are currently looked after by the TSU needs to be determined. Of immediate concern are two systems:
  1. FileMaker Pro databases: The TSU supports a number of FileMaker Pro databases developed to assist the Professional Experience Office, the Public Relations Internship program, and the Schools and Community Centre. Ongoing support for these databases, or a commitment to absorb their functions into enterprise systems, will need to be resolved as a matter of some urgency.
  2. ALICE Library Management System: The CRC and the ILTC manage their collections using the ALICE Library Management System, computer-based collection management software. There are two instances of ALICE, one for the CRC and one for the ILTC. Ongoing support for these systems, or a migration plan to another collection management environment, needs to be agreed soon to ensure no disruption to the operations of these centres after support becomes one service.


On 30 May, 2007, Apple announced iTunesU on the iTunes Store.

CUPERTINO, California—May 30, 2007—Apple® today announced the launch of iTunes® U, a dedicated area within the iTunes Store (www.itunes.com) featuring free content such as course lectures, language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights and campus tours provided by top US colleges and universities including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University and MIT.

“iTunes U makes it easy for anyone to access amazing educational material from many of the country’s most respected colleges and universities,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “Education is a lifelong pursuit and we’re pleased to give everyone the ability to download lectures, speeches and other academic content for free.”

“From its earliest days, Stanford has sought to serve the public by sharing the knowledge generated by our faculty and students,” said Stanford Provost John Etchemendy. “Our partnership with Apple and iTunes U provides a creative and innovative way to engage millions of people with our teaching, learning and research and share the experience of intellectual exploration and discovery that defines our university.”

Created in collaboration with colleges and universities, iTunes U makes it easier than ever to extend learning, explore interests, learn more about a school and stay connected with an alma mater. Content from iTunes can be loaded onto an iPod® with just one click and experienced on-the-go, anytime, making learning from a lecture just as simple as enjoying music.

Apple has said before that content from Australian universities is not likely to be offered through iTunesU.

Minor Works in Mid-year break

Facilities and Services will go ahead with the proposed Minor Works in the media production space in Building 9.

Facilities and Services has contracted the work to be done to open up the space in the middle of the media production area in Building 9, beginning around 25 June 2007 and to be completed before classes resume in Semester 2.

There will be no access to this area from now to allow the TSU to prepare the space for the renovations: all the equipment will need to be either removed or sealed to prevent dust from the work getting into the gear.

As a part of the minor works the operation of the air conditioning in the television studio will be assessed to see what can be done to reduce the flow and noise while not compromising the air quality.

08 June 2007

Moving the TSU News to Blogspot

With the demise of our inhouse server to host my items of news about the Technical Services Unit (TSU) from the Division of Communication and Education at the University of Canberra, Australia, and the imminent demise of the TSU with the current reorganisation of the University's ICT services, I'm moving my material to BlogSpot to see if I can keep it available. Our UCOnline people have transferred the TSU News to the Web Content Management System, but that doesn't work for me. This looks like a much easier option. You can see the Web CMS version at TSU News.

My concern is that if I leave the organisation all my material will disappear, and there will be a five year ungooglable gap in my life.

The challenge is going to be to add all the old items in their correct order with the original dates rather than the date of entry. Looks like I can set the post time and date below on this editing screen (under Post Options).

I intend to keep the information going here about the future of the TSU, at least until the reorganisation claims me...

01 June 2007

Authentication and Macintosh servers

Sometime the leading edge bleeds.

The Division has been using Macintosh servers for a number of years now, and, in order to provide specialist services to the Division, has recently been replacing outdated Windows servers with Macintosh servers. While the original services we developed on Macintosh servers ran (and still run) effectively, as we have added new services and tried to integrate them into the wider University’s IT architecture we have encountered problems with authentication that are still not overcome. The issues appear to be unique to the UC environment, since other institutions that have done similar installations to ours report that they do work there.

More work is being done to make the services reliable, and if not successful over the next week or two we will be bringing the vendor (Apple) in to help us solve these local issues.

Streaming Television

At least the Russians understood.

The 32 channels of free-to-air satellite services previously reticulated from UC around computer research networks the world over are no longer leaving the campus. Messages of support and encouragement have reached us from around Australia, the US, Canada, and Europe, including one message from Russia expressing their sadness at the lost opportunities the streams offered them in language teaching.

Why is it useful anyway?

These services are valuable at least for the following reasons, not just because we can (or could) stream 32 channels of live television around the world on reesearch networks.

  1. Language teaching is in crisis because their methods are too costly: we have the opportunity using the streaming services to provide media rich environments that when combined with focused academic support will make language learning more relevant, efficient and cost-effective.
  2. In Journalism, we provide exposure to the methods that the next generation of journalists will be using, not burdening them with the techniques of the past.
  3. In New Media, the technologies we are pioneering will, and do, provide effective alternative distribution opportunities, creating new distribution models and new industries for the content generation (Generation Content, like Generation X).
  4. In teaching we empower teachers to take the experiences of children out of the classroom and across the planet.
  5. For our overseas students we provide access to at least some form of window back home.
  6. Media Analysts can in an afternoon compare opinions from more than a dozen sources on world events.
  7. Lawyers have huge opportunities in rights management and regulation control.

It's about change, outward focus, engagement beyond the borders of our campus, our local community, our country.

Once we have the streams running here (which we still do), getting them to Puerto Rico and Moscow (and all points between on Research Networks) is trivial technically and doesn't "cost" anyone anything.

Take-Down Notice

The University responds to an approach from an outside organisation to remove materials from a Divisional website that infringe their rights.

Last week a well-known international online auction site wrote to the University claiming a University website was using its copyrighted materials inappropriately and fraudulently. It turned out that a student had, as a part of an assignment, created a parody of the site and hosted it on the server provided for the purpose of hosting student work.

We were informed of the notice on Thursday morning, 24 May 2007. After checking the existence of the site, TSU helpdesk immediately blocked access to the site from the Internet, and also removed the student’s access to the materials. Their lecturer was informed of the removal, and contacted the student to explain the situation. ICT Services pointed out that the student had breached the University’s Network Access Policy by using copyright material without authority and by misrepresenting the auction site.

Section 4.1 of the Network Access Policy states that:

4.1 Conditions of Use

The Internet service is provided for staff and students in undertaking their duties and studies related to the operations and mission of the University. Staff and students need to remember that use of the University's Internet and Intranet facilities and services is a privilege and not a right. They should be aware also that use of the Internet by the University is governed by a number of laws including copyright, defamation, misrepresentation, Fair Trading legislation and the Trade Practices Act, Telecommunications Regulations, Privacy Act, various criminal laws regarding fraud and obscenity, as well as a number of private codes regarding "netiquette" and the AVCC Policy on Allowed Access to the Internet. The University will take appropriate action upon becoming aware of any illegal use of the University's services and facilities.

The lecturer concerned replied that the student’s site was a purely innocent redesign of a page from the organisation, and undertook to explain to the student the importance of not breaching trademark or copyright in their work. It was quite a surprise that the notice appeared within days of the student’s site going live, an indication of the rigour with which the auction site polices its rights. Access to the student’s workspace was restored, minus the material that was the source of the complaint.

While the severity of the breach was low, it raises the issue for us of providing students (and staff) with access to the infrastructure that allows them easily to publish materials online. Heads of Schools should ensure staff and through them students understand the University’s Network Access Policy and abide by it. Through the ceportfolio service, all students enrolled in units in the Division have access to the same facility that allowed this breach to occur.

The incident also highlights the processes that are in place for rights owners to protect their property: in this case, the organization concerned identified the breach, and wrote to the University with a statement of their concerns. The University considered the concerns through established channels, and acted immediately to satisfy the complaint.

TSU Staffing

Uncertainty is making staffing difficult.

As previously noted our Service Desk Team Leader has taken 4 months leave without pay to take up a contract with the help desk for a federal government department and is not expected to return. With the staff freezes on, we are unable to replace him.

Network Manager has agreed to act as the TSU Manager for the next couple of months while the future of the provision of IT services within the University becomes clearer. She will be working 4 days a week in the role (she doesn’t work on Fridays). I will be working on a number of projects within the Division, and will be available to work with the TSU on any issues that arise. I will also continue with administering purchasing and reporting to the Division.

18 May 2007

AARNet Concern at Streaming Television

Nervousness at the possibility of rights infringements threatens streaming televison off-campus.

Thirty-two of the 46 digital television services streaming around the University campus are currently available across the AARNet3 next generation research network linking education and research institutions across Australia. Due to interconnections between AARNet3 and other research networks around the world, the services can be received in North America and Europe.

AARNet has recently written to the University asking for information on the legal standing of these services. We are providing the services under fair use for research and education provisions of the Copyright Act, and under the AVCC Screenrights Agreement with CAL.

At the moment the services going outside the campus are on the basis of an engineering trial: does the multicast technology that we use to reticulate the signals actually work as it should? For a number of reasons until recently the services have been unreliable and erratic, which has lead to a number of changes to network configurations, firmware in electronic equipment that manages traffic flow on these next-generation research networks being rewritten and upgraded, and more recently questions of the circumstances under which such services could be delivered in a more reliable way.

To date work on getting the streams to work reliably across the research networks has been done by engineers in AARNet, Internet2 and institutions across the various networks. The pioneering work done here is being recognised, and people everywhere are coming up with ideas of how they might use such services, should they be available on a reliable and accessible basis.

We are now discussing opportunities for teaching, learning and research using the technology in partnership with collaborators across Australia and beyond.

AUDF Grant Success

Grant success for the TSU.

The Apple University Development Fund (AUDF) is administered by the Apple University Consortium (AUC). Each year the AUC calls for projects to be funded (modestly) from AUDF.

One of the requirements of the VVR (see above) is to convert the television signals from the format in which they stream live around the network to one that takes less space to store and can be manipulated (edited and so on) for teaching, learning and research purposes.

This “transcoding” takes a fair amount of computing power and is usually handled by expensive servers. Our Service Delivery Manager has developed an idea for a farm of cheap desktop computers to be used to do the transcoding: a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Transcoders, or RAIT.

AUC has given us a server, three computers, access to technical advice and support for our Service Delivery Manager to attend the upcoming Consortium Conference to talk about his work.

VVR - Virtual Video Recorder

The future of off-air recordings.

In 2002 the Division applied to DEST’s Infrastructure Fund to support a National Institute for Language Learning, NILL. The successful application funded, among other things, the reticulation of analogue and digital television around the University, and it was always intended to complete the service with an online video recording system that complied with the licensing regime the University operates under allowing fair dealing with off-air recorded materials.

The project has been sitting there for a number of years waiting for the resources to become available to complete it. Early in 2006 a prototype VVR or Virtual Video Recorder was demonstrated that created quite a bit on interest (especially at the ANU), but other priorities intervened and the project was put on hold. Recently in his spare time, our Service Delivery Manager has tweaked the prototype somewhat and the system is in a quasi-operational state where a registered user can request a recording be made from any of the 46 digital services currently being reticulated around the computer network, and have the recording “emailed” to you when it is done.

One feature of the system is that if you forget to request a recording until after the program has started, it might still be possible to send you the whole program if someone else did request it.


More work for support staff.

PCs infected with viruses and other malware continue to cause problems for the Division and the wider University. On more than one occasion over the last few months staff returning from China have returned with malware on the portable PCs they took with them, apparently transmitted through the use of thumb drives to transfer data from PC to PC.

The Fujacks/Looked.EK trojan has been particularly difficult to deal with. As soon as an infected computer is attached to the UC network, the malicious code is transferred to network drives, and unless it is eradicated will continue to reinfect the PC after it is cleaned, and possibly other PCs that connect to the same network drives. Any thumb drives infected with the trojan will spread it to other PCs the drive is connected to, which surprisingly has proved to be a particularly efficient vector to spread the code around.

University PCs should be set up to automatically install the latest malware “signatures” used by the campus anti-virus software eTrust whenever they become available. PCs that don’t conform to this practice should not be connected to the University network, nor should data be moved to a University computer without a virus check being done first.

We need to be more vigilant sharing data around, and when returning to the University campus it might be prudent to run a virus check on a PC before reconnecting it to the network.

Dickson College gift

Old equipment is put to new use

Students at Dickson College can now be involved in radio production thanks to a gift from the Division. The radio mixing console from the media production facilities in Building 9 was replaced during the recent refurbishment, and although the old one is obsolete from our point of view it is ideally suited for the College’s purposes.

04 May 2007

Media Facilities Refurbishment

Users are now back in the media production spaces in Building 9.

All the equipment required to complete the refurbishment of the media facilities in Building 9, except for one of the monitors for the monitor wall in the television control room, has arrived.

The monitor wall should be installed (except for the last monitor, which should be delivered early next week) before the final round of activity planned for the television studio leading up to the end of Semester.

Any operational issues with the refurbished facilities should be collected by the users of the spaces and provided as a report for the contractor so that any issues can be addressed mid-year if appropriate (and the resources are available).

Users should not confuse the invitation to provide feedback with an opportunity to ask for new or different facilities to be made available: such requests should be channelled through the Division’s ICT Bid process.

Video Chat with ASU

Sometimes things just don’t go right.

Unfortunately settings issues with University computers, servers and firewalls prevented the video chats between language students at UC and ASU from going ahead last week, although some successful connections were made students were able to participate in the sessions as planned.

Central Queensland University is participating in the program this year, and we hope the technical issues can be resolved before the next planned session. Technical Staff at all three institutions are working on the problems.

Staff movements

Increased mobility of staff can be a problem.

The TSU welcomes back our Network Manager after her year away on secondment to ICT Services, and Maternity Leave.

At the same time our Service Desk Team Leader has taken four months leave without pay on contract to a Federal Department as an IT Trainer.

In light of the current instability in the University’s organization of ICT Services, there are no plans to replace the Service Desk Team Leader at this time. There will therefore be no training available from the TSU, and the Helpdesk Manager position will not be filled. Consequently there will be a reduction in services available generally from the TSU

Monthly Stats

Demand for services follows established trends.

Monthly statistics for April show a welcome decline in requests when compared with the overwhelming demand for services usual around the beginning of Semester, and fewer jobs are outstanding at the end of the month.

We now have four years of statistics and were the TSU to continue to operate the data would have given us a clear idea of the “seasonal” demand for IT support to better inform resource planning.

20 April 2007

Identity Management

Knowing who can and should use what on the network is a big and complex job.

Problems with using campus-wide authentication services for the Division’s specialist servers for staff and students appear to be solved, although it may be several weeks before all our servers are modified to accommodate the fix.

The solution involved co-operation between the Division, ICT Services, and outside consultants working together to overcome the problems, which were making connecting to the Division’s specialist servers unreliable.

Backup system for specialist Divisional files

Big files need to be backed up too.

The Technical Services Unit has commissioned a replacement backup system, to provide the capacity necessary to properly backup the large media files created in Journalism units and with the television recording system, as well as the specialist services provided to the Division through staff and student servers.

Current projections suggest we will have to expand the capacity of the system if usage continues to grow. This is not unexpected and provision was made when designing the new system to expand the capacity as required.

Video Chat with ASU

Probably the most significant project using IT resources in the Division.

Following last year’s very successful trial of video chat between Japanese language students at UC with English language students at Aichi Shukutoku University (ASU) in Japan, a permanent facility has been established in the CRC to continue the work started last year at UC and ASU.

Chats are expected to begin again this week.

Already other institutions are becoming involved in the interchanges, with Central Queensland University joining in when they can convince their IT people to make it work.

A special thanks to TSU staff for making it work here, and the Network Management Team in ICT Services for the work done and the positive support given the project.


The new Fibre to the Desktop (FTTD) system in the Journalism Editing Lab is now operational.

Journalism students using the Journalism video editing facility are now able to store and access their digital video from a central server rather than have it on individual local hard drives. With this system the students have much greater flexibility when editing their stories: they can transfer their original material from tape from any available ‘ingest’ station, and use whichever editing workstation is available when they edit their stories. If they don’t complete the edit within one session, when they return to continue work on their story they can go to any of the editing workstations and pick up where they left off, whereas before they had to use the same workstation they originally used.

Completed stories are available in the television control room over the network: by Semester 2 (or possibly sooner) the television control room will have direct access to the same storage as the students do in the editing facility, so that completed stories can be played into the live news program the students produce in the television studio without the need to copy the stories across the network.

Should the funds be available, we hope to extend the networked video editing storage to Television Production students next year.

Media Production Facilities refurbishments

Work is now almost completed on the refurbishment of the media production facilities in Building 9.

The facilities will be operational on time as planned, but there will be some additional work to be done as suppliers can provide us with equipment. There have been significant delays in the availability of the LCD monitors for the monitor wall (and no readily-available alternatives can be found), so a temporary installation of CRT monitors is being provided to ensure the television control room is ready for use in Week 11 as planned. We are also still waiting for delivery of the correct desk mounts for LCDs in the radio studio and control room: the supplier has supplied us with incorrect items twice and we are trying to get them to deliver the correct mounts as ordered. In the meantime temporary mounts will be used until the correct ones are available.

Colour Printing

Statistics show that colour printing is not being overused.

Stats for March show that there is no cause for concern in the cost of colour printing using the new Canon iRC2880 multifunction devices. Heads of School will have received an email from the Helpdesk proposing a controlled expansion of the availability of colour printing to staff: if there are no objections to the proposal it will be put in place in the next 2 to 6 weeks.

Monthly Stats

Stats for March show a high number of unfinished business.

A record number of Divisional Helpdesk jobs were outstanding (incomplete or pending) at the end of March, according to the March Stats. While it is not unusual to have a high number of jobs outstanding at this time of the year, it was a record and needed to be investigated.

Analysis of the jobs outstanding doesn’t reveal any particular pattern: there is a lot of work coming in and possibly some jobs are taking longer than normal to resolve (difficult to judge with any accuracy since time to resolution isn’t a statistic with any reliable historical data with which to compare current activities).

06 March 2007

One-off purchases

Leasing changes the traditional approach to Divisional support for individual purchases of equipment.

In the past when staff have requested a non-standard item (especially computers) in place of the Divisional issue, they contribute the difference in the cost between the standard issue and their preferred configuration. We have then purchased the item as a one-off and spilt the cost across the IT Loan and their nominated cost centre.

With leasing this becomes more complicated. We lease in batches rather than individually for a number of reasons including for convenience of tracking, and we don’t want to take lease payments for an individual item out of two cost centres every three months for the three-year life of the item. Our preferred option is for people wanting non-standard issue items in the future to purchase or lease the item with full payment coming from their cost centre.

2006 IT Loan

The Division has extended its last IT Loan.

Financial Services Executive Director agreed that the Division could extend its 2006 Infrastructure Fund loan (the IT Loan) to 31 March 2007. Commitments against the loan to 28 February 2007 now equal the amount of the loan. No further commitments will be made. Further approved equipment purchases and leases will be funded from the Division’s 2007 budget.

Projects still outstanding for which allowances have been made in the 2007 budget are:

  1. New and replacement desktop, portable and server computers (mainly leased);
  2. Media Facilities refurbishment (completion);
  3. Multimedia Showcase of Student Work; and
  4. Autocue

Colour Printing

The change to colour printing offers its own challenges.

At its meeting of 17 November, 2006, Executive noted the TSU Report which proposed the introduction of colour multifunction devices (MFDs) in each of the Division’s buildings as replacements for large format printers that were end-of-life. The TSU Report noted that:

“The challenge is in containing the printing costs. Black prints cost around 1 cent per impression, colour around 10 cents. This ‘click charge’ covers the toner and maintenance of the machine, so apart from the cost of the MFD and the paper, this is all that is paid for keeping the devices printing over their five-year expected lifecycle. As a comparison, desktop colour laser printers like the HP 2800 series cost 18 cents + per impression for toner and drum costs alone, with any maintenance paid for separately in addition to the consumables. Paper cost is extra but then all devices use the same paper so the cost is the same no matter what printer is used.

The devices can be configured to limit the access users have to colour printing: each user can have unlimited, quota-limited or no access to colour printing (but can still print in black). Printing can be monitored by individual user so costs can be managed.

It is proposed that access to printing in colour be restricted to certain individuals in each building. Staff wishing to print in colour would need to send the jobs through these people, with Schools deciding if there needs to be any further approval process (say the permission of the Head of School) before the job was done.

The TSU will monitor usage (and cost) and provide a report to Executive each month for noting: any cause for concern in terms of printing cost could then be identified quickly. If the cost of colour printing did become an issue, policy and restrictions could be tightened up further.” TSU Report 14 November 2006

The MFDs were recommended for purchase by the IT& I Committee, and with the approval of Executive and the PVC were funded from the 2006 IT Loan. The devices were installed in 9C24, 20C13, 5B60, and 1C146 in February 2007, administration staff in each building were identified as approved users of the printers (allowed to print in colour), and staff were notified on 2 March 2007 of the arrangements for use. Training by Canon and the TSU on the more advanced features of the devices is being offered during the week of March 12-16.

PC users can print to the devices in black, but for Macintosh users the system is complicated and unwieldy. Printing in black to the colour MFDs is more expensive that printing to the existing black MFDs (1 cent per impression for the colour MFDs as opposed to .9 of a cent for the older ones). We are therefore encouraging staff to print to the older devices, using the newer ones for fail over when the older ones are unavailable for any reason.

In line with Executive approval all colour printing and copying is being sent through administration staff. This is not a long-term solution as administration staff are busy and the additional load of controlling the colour printing is inefficient and time consuming. In the longer term the MFDs can be set up to provide all staff with an ID and pass code. A quota can be set and reports generated showing who printed what. Such reports could be used to charge Cost Centres for the usage. The reports would need some manual administrative work to calculate totals to be charged to each Cost Centre.

The report for printing to the devices for the first month (until 28 February 2006) follows.

Impressions Total Black Total Colour
















Monthly Stats

Stats to the end of February show no great surprises: tracking other years as expected, with rising demand and responses as semester begins.

I’m also trying to track the number of staff (and staff-like entities: those people the TSU supply staff services to), but the data is unreliable at the moment. We are looking at making this more reliable as time goes by, but we don’t have direct access to the authoritative source for the data (Alesco) and have to relay on ICT Services’ scripts which for some reason include and exclude people apparently at random each day. For what it’s worth on 31 January 2007 the figure was 491, on 28 February it was 458, 5 March it was 435 and 6 March 524.

20 February 2007

Malware infection

On a recent visit to China the PC laptop of a member of the Division’s staff became infected with a virulent form of malware: believed to be a trojan called FUJACKS.W32.

In an effort to repair the staff member’s PC, TSU staff involved attached an external hard drive to the infected computer. The hard drive became infected with the trojan, which was then unknowingly transmitted to the computer controlling the GlobeCaster vision switcher in the Television Control Room during an upgrade process. An external contractor’s PC may then have been infected with the trojan when it was connected to the GlobeCaster as a part of the upgrade process. The GlobeCaster is not connecter to the University network, particularly because the nature of the computer is such that the normal security patches shouldn’t be applied and therefore the computer is vulnerable to malware attack if it is connected to the Internet.

The staff member’s portable computer is now unusable and has had to be replaced. The GlobeCaster is currently not working, but a replacement for the controlling computer had been ordered anyway and will be installed, hopefully malware-free. We are awaiting confirmation that the trojan has not spread to other computers on the University network.

Staff should be reminded of the dangers of exposing their computers to malware attack. While measures are in place on the University network to reduce the risk (but not eliminate it entirely), attaching University computers to networks (wired or wireless) outside the campus, at home, during Conferences or at other institutions, comes with the possibility of greatly increased danger of the machine being compromised in some way. This incident is not unique: within the last month ICT Services has contacted the Division to report that a staff member’s computer that was attempting to connect securely (via VPN) to the University network from home was infected with malware. Access was denied until the computer concerned was cleaned up.

One suggestion is that people needing computers off-campus should use a Macintosh. While the Macintosh operating system is not immune to malware attack, it is more secure than Windows and there are no known malware exploits currently in circulation that would compromise a computer running Mac OS X. The Division should consider increasing the number of Macintosh portable computers available for short-term loan to accommodate this requirement.


A new campus-wide Calendar, too.

Currently ICT Services support the campus-wide scheduling application Oracle Calendar. The Exchange environment includes its own scheduling environment integrated with the system. Staff will interact with the Calendar using the same clients they use for email: Outlook on the PC and Entourage on the Macintosh. It is unclear at the moment if the Oracle Calendar will be moved over to Exchange when the ICT Services Exchange 2003 Server comes into production in March this year, or whether the changeover will happen with the move to Exchange 2007 next year.

Email migration

Now that Divisional Home Directories and Shares have been migrated to ICT Services, the next project is to migrate email from the cemail server (also known as isaac) to ICT Services. While the Division should be aware of this project, it is unlikely to have any impact on staff use of email until, at the earliest, late this year.

In March 2007 ICT Services will pilot Exchange 2003 with Development and International, to iron out any problems. It will then roll Exchange 2003 out across the other areas of the University not currently on Exchange (HDS and the other non-Academic Divisions). COMEDU and BLIS are already using Exchange 2003 so there will be no noticeable impact on either Division during this stage (COMEDU and BLIS will continue to host their staff email on their existing servers: the rest of the University will be hosted on an ICT Services Exchange 2003 Server).

After Semester 2, 2007, ICT Services will implement Exchange 2007 on a new server. Over the summer break 2007-2008, all users (including BLIS and COMEDU users) will be migrated to the new Exchange 2007 Server. After the migration to the ICT Services’ Exchange 2007 Server, BLIS and COMEDU will be able to decommission their Divisional servers.

Sometime this year ICT Services’ disk images for staff will contain Outlook 2003 (PC) or Entourage 2004 (Macintosh) as a part of a rollout of Office 2003 (PC) and Office 2004 (Macintosh). While most of the Division’s staff computers will support Office 2003/2004, it is too early to say whether the Division will get the new images this year or deploy them widely. We will probably wait until 2008 before updating across the board, when there will be a move to use Office 2007 (PC) or 2008 (Macintosh) to support Exchange 2007.

The move to Office 2007 (PC) and Office 2008 (Macintosh) in 2008 will be a major change since the new Office suites are radically different to previous versions. Significant staff training will be required to ensure the transition is smooth. There may also be some problems with older hardware that doesn't run these new Office suites satisfactorily: more research is required before the impact of the changeover can be determined with any accuracy.

Once the new Office suites are in place, support will only be provided for Outlook (PC) and Entourage (Macintosh) as email (and Calendar: see following item on Calendar migration) clients. While Divisional staff will not be required to use these clients, the then current versions of Outlook and Entourage will be the only ones supported. Nothing will be done specifically to prevent staff using whatever email client they can get to work to access their email, but they won't be supported if they need assistance.

Off-campus access to email will also change. Staff will need to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, connection to the campus network to be allowed access to their email and calendar from anywhere outside the campus. There will be some difficulties with this approach (user training, infrastructure and capacity within the University to support VPN connections, VPN clients on computers used by staff outside the University to access the services here, configuration help and support, and so on) that will need to be monitored and addressed as the system is implemented.

30 January 2007

Streaming Television

Shuttle’s down, streaming back up.

After an interruption over the summer break due to problems with NASA’s border router, the UCTV International Services are back on air (much to the relief of our clients across Europe, North America and Australia). It appears that a misconfigured system somewhere in the US was rebroadcasting our program guide list (called Session Announcement Protocol, or SAP, Announcements) in such a way as to deny NASA Internet access by overwhelming its border router. Our thanks go to all the engineers on both sides of the Pacific who worked on solving the problem, especially the UC Berkeley engineer who identified the errant box (which wasn’t on their network) and organised for it to be shut down.

Projects for 2007

Looking ahead at the activities to occupy our time over the coming year.

With the demise of the IT Infrastructure Fund (the IT Loan), the move to leasing rather than purchasing of computers, and the general budget situation, the Technical Services Unit won’t be purchasing a lot of new equipment in 2007. This will give us the opportunity to commission or finalise a number of services and consolidate our role as a provider of specialised IT and Media services for the Division with the equipment and infrastructure we have available to us from the refresh of our services over the last few years.

Current projects of special note are:


After the success of the trial with Aichi Shukutoku University (ASU) in Nagoya, Japan last year, we will be putting in a permanent facility to support video chat between students here and elsewhere. The facility will be available through the Curriculum Resources Centre in Building 5.

BigVideo — Networked Video Editing Storage Solution

During Semester 1 2007 we expect to implement a networked storage solution for video editing in 9B23. Journalism students will be able to capture their original video material to the store where it can be accessed from any of the 8 workstations in the area. Students will be able to start their editing on one workstation, then return later to any of the workstations and continue their work. Once completed, their stories will be available from the store to the Television Control Room on the A floor in Building 9, where the stories can be played live into the news programs they produce as a part of their Unit.

Media Production Facilities refresh

The media production areas on the A Floor in Building 9 are being rebuilt in an effort to overcome a number of operational issues that have emerged with the facilities over the last few years. The facilities were looking a little tired, messy and outdated, so the refresh is smartening them up visually as well as technically to provide a better and more reliable experience for the users, and a more attractive facility to showcase the Division’s resources.

Home and share migration to ICT Services

Standard and common services migrate to ICT Services

On Thursday 18 January 2007 and the following days COMEDU staff home drives and network shares were transferred from the Division’s server, dcenas, to ICT Services’ staffprofiles and staffshares drives. A number of staff experienced some difficulties with accessing their files after the move, but for most, providing they had logged out of their machines before the transfer as requested, experienced no issues.

There didn’t seem to be any great consistency in the reported difficulties, and each incident was dealt with between the client, COMEDU Helpdesk and ICT Services on a case-by-case basis. Most have been resolved in a timely manner.

Staff should report any difficulties with their Home Directory, Profile or shares they access directly to the Service Desk where their difficulties can be dealt with without COMEDU intervention. During the transition period our helpdesk staff are being involved in any incident, increasing the number of staff involved in the process and making it more complicated for everyone, rather than making it more efficient. Any requests the COMEDU Helpdesk receive are directed to the ICT Services’ Service Desk, but in the future Divisional staff should direct any inquiries about their Home Directories, Profile or shared drives to ICT Services.

Knight Foundation grant application

Looking for funding for Real World Applications for video strteaming.

Late in December a colleague suggested that there might be some funding available from the Knight Foundation under their News Challenge program to utilise UCTV services in a community project. He heard about the opportunity from the Carrick Institute. The Division has already received a number of grants for research through the Carrick Institute itself.

Several of us met in late December and decided to submit a letter of intent, in which they proposed to develop a system where local television news can be recorded, subtitles extracted for text search, links provided to local online news stories, and community input facilitated so the local community could become involved in local issues (a key requirement of the News Challenge grant). Our supervisors agreed we should submit the letter of intent to see what happened.

The Knight Foundation asked us to submit a full proposal. The original group worked with the School of Professional Communication and submitted an expanded proposal in mid-January (deadlines were very short). The Foundation expects to announce the successful applicants by late April 2007.

[Update: While we weren't successful this time, we received strong encouragement for our proposal from the Knight Foundation. We will be looking for other funding opportunities to support the proposed project.]